Over 40 representatives from 11 countries in the Pacific gathered for two days in Fiji to outline their unions’ plans to grow the women’s networks and promote equality in education and unions in the region. The women’s network meeting was held prior to the triennial conference of the Council of the Pacific Education (COPE, EI regional organisation in the Pacific).
Tili Afamasaga, from the Samoa National Teachers’ Association and Chair of COPE, set the tone by reminding younger colleagues that the COPE Women’s Network had been instrumental in promoting equal rights in the Pacific for the last 25 years. Other regions copied the model of EI’s Women’s Network which is now successful throughout the world since the launch of the Arab Women’s Network in 2012.
Few women in top-level jobs
Despite their overrepresentation in the teaching profession, women continue to experience challenges in reaching decision-making positions due to traditions, culture and inhibitions. Progress is slow but steady. Most Pacific Islands’ unions now have Equality Officers whom female teachers can contact to express their needs and challenges. Legislation is gradually guaranteeing improved equality in society.
Participants expressed their concern about the continued violence against women and girls and the casualisation of the teaching profession. The distance between the outer islands makes it difficult for unions to reach out and recruit. "If women knew about the training opportunities offered by teacher unions and the benefits of networks, many more would join the union," said Oketi Tangitau from FITA Tonga.
Equality and communication
Communication, organising and union governance were key training areas delivered to the participants. Fay Volatabu, Chair of the Fiji Women Council, talked about the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and encouraged teacher unions to challenge Governments about their commitment to this important instrument to promote equality.
The COPE network also resolved to set up a Facebook account to maintain the communication between formal meetings. All unions adopted a Plan of Action consistent with the COPE Strategy to be reported upon at the next COPE conference. The network was supported by COPE and the Independent Education Union (IEU).